Best Way To Clean Your Rusty Guitar Pickups


Everyone’s talking about how to clean a guitar neck, strings, body etc. Still, I haven’t found much about cleaning electric guitar pickups on the web. I noticed it because recently I thought about how my guitar pickups need thorough cleaning.

They were covered with sticky dust. Rust caught up on the poles. You can see it on image from above.

All of this made me wonder: How to clean a guitar pickup?

In short:

When you take off the rust, it’s best to apply some lemon – salt solution and brush it off from poles. When you’re cleaning the plastic surface, use some vinegar solution and brush the dust with non abrasive piece of cloth.

You may be worried about starting your guitar pickups cleaning. After all, it’s the electronic part of your guitar. Yes, it’s true that you have to be cautious, but again, if you do it in a right way,  you don’t need to worry. Here’s the detailed review of guitar pickup cleaning process. Stay with me.

Guitar pickup cleaning process is divided into two parts. First, cleaning rust from the poles, and second, cleaning dust from the surrounding surface.

Dealing With The Rust

First, let’s talk about the rust forming on your poles. Rust is the product of oxidation process where oxygen and hydrogen atoms bond with the atoms from your metal. Actually, when we talk about guitar poles, they’re usually made of nickel.

It’s actually corrosion that take place on the pickups, since a rust can only form on steel and iron. Nevermind the semantics, whether you call it corrosion or rust – it’s pretty self explanatory what we mean when we’re talking about rust forming on a guitar pickup.

If you want to know more about it, check out this very interesting scientific study about Corrosion Behaviour of Metals in Artificial Sweat  (pdf file).

Anyway, I have found several ways for removing the rust from a guitar pickup. Of course, I don’t have to tell that the first thing to do is to take your strings off. You can also take the pickups from the guitar, but it’s not so necessary.

Lemon And Salt Mixture

First one is really simple. All you need is a lemon and salt. Everyone has that.

Squeeze a half of the lemon in the little bowl and add one teaspoon of salt afterwards. Mix it with the spoon. Now you have your mixture ready. But before you start to do anything with it, you must secure your pickups.

Easiest way to do it is with a simple tape. Cover everything around your poles with mask tape so you can be sure not to drop any mixture on the plastic, which can be damaging to your guitar pickup.

Mask everything around thoroughly, so there’s no plastic space uncovered with the tape. When you do it, you’re ready to use a lemon – salt mixture on your poles. You can apply one drop of the mixture on every pole. The most practical way to do it, regarding the accidental spilling around that can happen, is with a simple syringe.

You can find it in every pharmacy. If you don’t have it at the moment, you can use a Q tip instead.

Now, apply a drop of the mixture on each pole with the syringe (or a Q tip). Gently rub every pole with Q tip it until you see rust gone. Repeat the process with each pickup.

You’ll have to rub it at least few times.

Penetrating Oil

You can also take some penetrating oil when dealing with the rust on your poles. Preliminary steps are the same. Use a  mask tape to cover all of the parts around your poles.

You can take any penetrating oil you have and apply it on the poles. It depends on your choice whether to use it in a form of spray or just a regular bottle.

Anyway, when you apply it on the poles, rub it off with the cotton swab. You can use super fine 0000 steel wool for that purpose, if you wish. After you rubbed your poles, use some regular brush and brush them off for a minute. There you have it – your poles are clean and rust – free.

You can check out this cool video showing the cleaning process.

Removing Dust

Now that we covered poles cleaning, we still have to clean the plastic surface of pickups. Well, that’s simple and straightforward. You’ll have to use some nice, smooth piece of cloth to brush it all of the surface.

Usually that’s not enough. Dust is often sticky and hard to brush off, so you’ll need some mixture solution. Vinegar can be beneficial. Just put one teaspoon of vinegar in a cup of hot water and mix it.

Soak the cloth in the mixture and wring it thoroughly. You don’t want wet cloth to clean your pickups with it. The cloth has to be just dampen enough. Now that you have it, brush your pickups.

Dust should be gone in a few seconds and now you have your pickups clean and fresh as new.

Tips & Tricks

Guitar pickups get dirty from time to time. It’s inevitable. What can you do about it? Here are a few tips and tricks beneficial for maintenance of your guitar pickups.

Keep Your Guitar In a Dry Place

As you probably know – humidity is the cause of rust development on your poles. There’s no completely dry place in your house, but keep in mind this fact. You certainly don’t want to leave a guitar in your kitchen.

Ideal relative humidity level of room ranges from 45 to 55 percent.

Balcony is another bad idea, since it’s the outside part of your house which is often more humid than other. It’s perfect to store your guitar in a place without much traffic.

Hard case is the best place where you can leave your guitar for a longer period of time.

Check some related articles about guitar storing and humidity issues:

Clean Other Parts Of Your Guitar Regularly

Obviously, the cleaner surrounding of your pickup is, the cleaner is the pickup itself. Make sure you clean your guitar neck and body regularly.

There are many good guitar polish products you can use.

Cleaning process is pretty straightforward, easy and fast. It takes not more than minute to clean your guitar body!

Check out some articles from this page that can help you maintain your guitar clean and fresh:

Don’t Leave Your Guitar Lying In Various Places

It’s probably the most usual thing all of the guitarists do. Even I occasionally have my guitar lying on the bed and couch, even overnight. What can we do about it?

It’s not a big deal if you leave your guitar overnight on the couch. Still, make sure you don’t forget to put it on the right place every time you stop playing it.

Not only those places are bad for your guitar’s neck, it also makes your guitar dirty, greasy and moldy. As it’s been said already, hard case is the best option for your guitar.

Wash Your Hands Every Time Before You Play It

If you wash your hands every time before you take your guitar and play it, you’ll have it clean and shiny for a longer period of time. It’s simple.

Our hands are collectors of all the dirt you can find in the house. We touch everything with our hands, so wouldn’t it be somehow insensible to transfer all of the dirt to our guitar neck and the strings?

Yes, and not only we do that, but the pickups also collect the dust and dirt we bring.

Rub Your Pickups With Non Abrasive Cloth

You could read so far about how to take off the sticky, accumulated dust on your pickups. But does it mean you can wait until that happens, every time? That makes no sense.

It’s better to take one minute every week or so to rub off the accumulated dust on the pickups. Use the microfiber one. There are plenty of them on the internet.

Final Words

As you realize by now, cleaning guitar pickups is not a big deal. Yes, you have to be cautious and patient, but it’s not that complicated to do it. Make sure you brush your pickups regularly with the non abrasive piece of cloth (microfiber is the best choice).

I know there’s not much information about the pickup cleaning techniques on the entire web. Because of that, I hope this article helped you somehow. If that’s the case, I’m more than happy for helping you.

Don’t forget to check out other articles from this page on guitar care!

Or some other interesting articles from various topics.

Cheers, and rock on!

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